Monday, 2 September 2013

On Choosing an RPG to Play

I'm a gamer, I like dice of many different sides and colours. I like sitting around with friends to make up stuff about imaginary characters who, if they chose, could probably snap the players like twigs. I like to think that it goes hand in hand with my other pastime, writing (though the two should never be confused, I've learnt the hard way that gaming is gaming and writing is writing).

As I write this I'm looking down at a year long stint as a player, because I'm not going to run a game until Autumn 2014, after the MA I'm doing is done. One of the longest serving members of the group, also a GM, has just taken a break, citing reasons of burn out. Which leaves the other GM with the dubious pleasure of a full year of running games. On the one hand that sounds like Heaven, on the other, well it's a lot of work and strife he's potentially facing.

Despite my long stretch as I finish off the MA and work on my (now trilogy) of novels, I'm going to take the opportunity to look at gaming and try to plan out something long and flexible (oo er). A quick census of my collection revealed a lot of games I've never run before, some of which I've never even suggested as games to play; and that won't do at all. My original list of about six games expanded to a fulsome 24 (and then some) before I decided that was a nonsensical approach and decided to slash the numbers right down to a more sensible 14 and then down to eightish - the number fluctuates up and down depending on how attached I'm feeling to titles and how much I think I can get away with saying 'look I want to build my own world'.

I'm not too concerned about plot to be honest - one thing I've learnt from writing is that story is story and you either find a way into it or you don't. Stories are infinitely malleable and you can shape them however you want so a lot of the stuff that constitutes genre is simply set dressing to make the piece you're writing feel different. As a result, aside from one game on the short list I'm just planning to churn out the same plot and adapt it to the game I run, which takes some of the pressure off to be honest.

The short list I've ended up with is:

Dreaming Cities: A Tri Stat game that focuses on urban fantasy. It comes with three settings but, if I'm honest this is where I plan to build my own. I think I'll have to talk to my players and find out what they want.

Ashen Stars: A game where the players take on the roles of freelance police, effectively in a space opera setting. This feels like the most 'writerly' of the games because of the way the game's system is designed; its a detective game so there's a lot of focus on gathering evidence and things like that. The game boasts some fresh ideas and some lovely races that are just the right side of alien. There isn't much setting here beyond the broad strokes, because (and again this underscores the writerly nature of the game to me) the idea is that you generate places to support plots.

Yggdrasil: A game set in 6th Century Scandia (or Scandinavia if you prefer), this is a historical fantasy game that fully embraces the Norseman life without falling into the cliches of horned helmets. It's set before the 'Viking' period as well so the looting and pilaging opportunities will be fewer. The game is very involved with the concept of runes and fate, as well as the other things that RPGs normally touch upon.

AEON and Adventure!: A pair of games, part of White Wolf's AEON Continuum (a short lived attempt to do for Science Fiction what the World of Darkness did for horror. One, AEON (or Trinity as you may know it as the game company had to change the name after a law suit from MTV) is a nearish future game set in a world ravaged by superhumans, where the threat has returned from space. It attempts to mix lots of styles of SF together by creating genre theatres around the world, cyberpunk in North America, post apocalypse in Europe and so on. The characters are psions, people who have psychic powers (where that seems to extend beyond telepathy and psychokinesis and into body shaping and healing powers as well). There are orders, groups to belong to - as you might expect from a White Wolf game, which range from corporate movers and shakers, shadowy assassin revolutionaries and dedicated healers. Again there's nothing strange here.

Adventure! takes place rather earlier in the timeline, the 1920s and 30s in fact and draws heavily from the pulps of the day. The world is strange and largely undocumented. I get the impression that the setting is meant to put the characters in a similar niche to 'Brass's People' from Planetary; globetrotting heroes who band together to keep the world safe (for varying degrees of 'safe' of course).

Numenera: The new game. I grabbed this on impulse after seeing some people rhapsodying over it on an RPG site. It's set in the '9th World' an epoch in the far future and the characters are people who shift through the rubble of ages, have adventures and generally get on with strange things.

Lastly we have the Reserve List, in case it all falls flat.

SLA Industries: An old game but one I love and haven't run for about a decade. SLA casts the characters as Ops working for an all powerful company and cleaning up its messes.

Changeling the Dreaming: The fifth of the original World of Darkness games, here the PCs are Changelings, dual soulled beings who interact with the unseen world around them. They're creatures of imagination and dreams, fighting against the inevitable onset of Winter; a time when these things won't exist and the world will be duller and shallower for it.

It does suffer a little from the original WoD's 'scientists ran over my dog' syndrome but at the same time it's an evocative game, full of beauty and wonder (which are surely needed to make the darkness deeper).

And that's it - this is what I'll be presenting to people tonight.